Weekly Bible Devotional
“Finding God in the Waves: Take Me to Church”
September 25, 2022
Scripture: Acts 4:32-35
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Notes on the Text:
In its beginnings, the Church continued in the Spirit of Christ to bring people together and to break down barriers like he did. The nascent church as described in Acts 4 practiced their faith in a way that can inspire us today. The early followers of Christ were so focused on the love of God that their lives were so transformed for the whole world to see their amazing change. Motivated by the Holy Spirit, they generously shared what property they possessed. This was not an early form of communism because there is historical evidence that points to the continued ownership of homes and businesses by individual members. The sale and distribution of surplus assets is most likely what is described in both Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37. Common ownership was not a community “rule”. Members sold and gave as they felt called to. This story is about how a community that was focused on the grace and love of God lives together. When the people experienced God’s love, they were transformed to share it with others. Their hearts were opened to the needs of others among them. Community and the common good became central to one’s life and that community was diverse in every possible way. Everyone belonged and contributed. The Spirit of God created not just new practices in our lives, it also created a whole new people out of them. This was a genuine community where people practiced vulnerability, sharing, teaching, and joy. Those who needed help felt like they belonged. Those who were able to give felt compelled to share because great grace was upon them all. Genuine Christian community is about grace where our social hierarchies, divisions, and hatreds are turned upside down and exposed for their inadequacy to feed our souls.
We focus this week on why our spiritual life needs community. Neuroscience helps us to see that we are wired for community. Social belonging is as essential to us as food and shelter. In his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman shares the results of his research on the social nature of our brains. As a result of his years of study, Lieberman asserts that being social is at the core of who we are for learning, growth, community, and all aspects of life.
For the followers of Jesus, the Church is the community we need for our souls to belong, grow, and shine. Yet, human communities are not always what they aspire to be, including the community of church. The social disconnects we experience in daily life are often reflected in church where people cut each other down, abuse, exclude, compete, slander, and even bully each other.
The church over the centuries has not always lived according to the lead of the Spirit of God’s grace. Conflict, division, abuse, greed, self-interest, and even violence have been part of the church’s history. But when we as the people of God are able to focus on our relationship with God and grow in that love and grace, we are able to bring tremendous transformation to our world towards generosity and love. This is not just some idealistic dream for a Utopian community that exists only in our imagination. Our spiritual communities, no matter what they look like or how they practice the faith, are not immune to conflict and problems. In fact, genuine community is about working through conflicts, honoring differences, repenting, and forgiving each other, and always finding new and life-giving ways to love God and the world. Parker Palmer, in his wonderful book, The Company of Strangers, writes that community is “that place where the person you least want to live with always lives. And when that person moves away someone else always arrives to fill the empty place…It seems we all carry some romantic notion of community–the idea that community is where we can hide out with a bunch of people who are just like us. But the real purpose, at least the Christian purpose, of community is for it to be a place where we give ourselves up to the workings of the Spirit by learning how to live with people who aren’t exactly like us, but people we may not like at all. It seems that the way to open ourselves up to the God who is beyond our knowing, the way to beloved community, is to start small–with the neighbor who is beyond our knowing. What better way to learn about the reconciling power of Christ than to test it in a body of infinite variety.” So community according to Palmer is not about intimacy with others but about seeing our connection to all of God’s created world and practicing that on the local level.
This is the energy and soul that is needed in our world today. September is suicide awareness month. We know how challenging it is to maintain mental health when life can be so difficult or when our bodies fail us. A community of care is so essential to ground us in a sense of connection and that we belong, just as we are.
We live such separate and often quite removed lives. Yet behind all this seeming separation a deeper unity anchors everything. This is one of the powerful intimations of the great religious traditions. The ideal of community is not the forcing together of separate individuals into the spurious unity of community. The great traditions tell us that community somehow already exists. When we come together in compassion and generosity, this hidden belonging begins to come alive between us.
A Psalm of Cosmic Communion:
May I join you, cosmic congregation of galaxies,
as you dance with delight before our God.
You spin and leap with brilliant bursts of light,
never tiring of your sacred circle-play.
May I join you, star-children of countless constellations,
in the worship of our common Creator
in your rotating rituals of nuclear energy
as you sing cosmic chants of divine fire.
May I join you, I who find my times of devotion
so often flat and fireless,
bound by routine and uninspired,
stagnant due to their lack of zeal.
May I join you, so that my prayers
may also spin with sparkling splendor,
spawning long tails of luminous devotion
to carry my praise and adoration
straight to the heart of my Beloved God.